Why Prabal Gurung and Karen Elson Have Made New York City Their Home

A panel of creatives led a lively discussion about style in New York City on Tuesday night.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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A panel of creatives led a lively discussion about style in New York City on Tuesday night.
Karim Rashid, Prabal Gurung, Joe Zee, Karen Elson, Paul Haggis and Stacy Engma. Photo: W Hotels

Karim Rashid, Prabal Gurung, Joe Zee, Karen Elson, Paul Haggis and Stacy Engma. Photo: W Hotels

On Tuesday night at the W Hotel in Times Square, a panel of creatives curated by cultural brand Liberatum — which included Fashionista favorites Karen Elson and Prabal Gurung  — sat together to discuss New York City style, and what makes the city a personal muse for each of them. While the conversation (moderated by Joe Zee) took a number of turns, debating everything from narcissism in the digital age to the gentrification and homogenization of the city, each member of the group was able to share a number of stories that revealed why he or she choose to live in New York over the world's other great cities.

Karen Elson, a London transplant who moved to New York when she was 17, currently splits her time between the city and Nashville, Tennessee, but it's the rebellious, serendipitous nature of Manhattan that keeps bringing her back. "When I first moved to New York I had been modeling for almost two years with absolutely no success — I mean, nobody liked me," she said. "But this is the place where everything happened for me. It’s where people finally saw potential in me that I kind of secretly knew myself already existed." 

She recalled the bittersweet moment when she used the last pennies to her name to take the subway to meet Steven Meisel. After waiting for him outside in the cold all day, the two shot a spread for Italian Vogue, and the rest of her career is history. 

The model and musician also feels an energy and a drive in New York residents that can't be matched anywhere else. "In New York I’ve met like-minded people," Elson explained. "Here, I feel like I am an artist, I’m a creative person, and I’ve never felt that reciprocal feeling anywhere else. There are endless possibilities."

Prabal Gurung, who has lived everywhere from Singapore to Nepal to New Delhi, said that the grit and challenges of day-to-day life in the city teach him lessons every day, most importantly, that he can be OK by himself. "In the midst of chaos, New York provides solitude without me being alone or lonely," the designer said. "It’s also a place where a boy like me — wanting to do fashion and living in Nepal where it never seemed like a possibility — it seemed like the right place for me to go. It’s a city of misfits. I was always the odd one out, that’s why I traveled a lot, looking for a place to belong. When I came to New York, I felt like I found it."

Joe Zee, who currently runs the style division of Yahoo, brought up his experience as creative director at Elle and how the New York office of the magazine had such a global impact. "There are 45 international editions [of Elle], and everything that we produced in New York was syndicated globally," he explained. "The international editions looked to us — New York is a place where thought leaders can come." In addition to being one of the world's most taste-making cities, it’s also one of the most accepting and ambitious, which is one point that the entire panel seemed to agree on.

"If you were bullied in school, New York was the one place you could go and get on the cover of a magazine," Zee said.